We can’t properly recap 2022 without mentioning this: One of the year’s biggest and best songs is nearly 40 years old. Thanks to several crucial moments in the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill” dominated music in 2022. I heard it in clubs, in streams, from cars, everywhere really. And no doubt it will inspire another generation of artists to pick up Kate Bush’s avant-synthpop mantle.
The resurgence of “Running Up That Hill” serves as perhaps the best example of a broader theme I observed in 2022: the unexpected. Classic acts like Depeche Mode might remain unflinching sources of influence, yet this year’s shocking death of DM cofounder Andy Fletcher reminds us of the fragility of our legends and the loss of a golden era. Meanwhile, just as COVID-19 was nearing its conclusion, the synthpop landscape seemed to be settling into a new normal that included festivals and touring, not to mention broadening themes beyond pandemic anxiety, but then Russia invaded Ukraine, setting off a new round of dread. The unexpected was everywhere.
I can’t include “Running Up That Hill” in the list below because it doesn’t meet my criteria of being released this year. But there are plenty of other unexpected moments, strange combinations, out-there themes, and new distribution channels. After all, it was the year that an Instagram meme page suddenly became one of my favorite ways to discover new music—here’s to you, @electronicbodymemes.
For the fourth year in a row, I’m excited to present my 100 favorite songs of the year. As always, I only include each artist once on the list in order to share the love.
The complete list:
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 100 to 76
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 75 to 51
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 50 to 26
- 100 best synthpop songs of 2022: 25 to 1
100 Let’s Eat Grandma – “Happy New Year”
On January 1, British duo Let’s Eat Grandma (named for a grammar joke) dropped this effervescent ode to New Year’s Day, complete with bubblebaths and bursting fireworks. The song’s holiday lyrics instantly date it, but Let’s Eat Grandma are playing the long game. This delightful track should appear on New Year’s Eve playlists for years to come.
99 Life on Mars – “Forest Driveway”
On first listen, you might think “Forest Driveway” is a lovely, classic synthpop tune about driving along a wooded road. But pay closer attention to lyrics like “Spread your wings and let me in,” and you’ll soon realize there’s something more seductive going on in those woods. Let’s hope the rest of the upcoming album from German project Life on Mars is just as provocative.
98 The Mystic Underground – “Peter”
On this mid-tempo contemplation, The Mystic Underground’s Vladimir Valette stretches out the opening lyrics into a lazy afternoon doze. He never namechecks the titular “Peter” in the song’s lyrics—something I’ve always found compelling—but he tells me he was partially inspired by Peter Pan and a person he once knew named Peter.
97 Hexheart – “The Funeral Party”
I typically do not include cover songs on this list, but Hexheart has completely reimagined a deep cut from The Cure’s third album, Faith, ramping up the energy and making “The Funeral Party” wholly their own. Its percolating synth lines and wobbling vocal effects set the tone for Funeral Flowers, the sophomore set from God Module frontman Jasyn Bangert’s synthpop project.
96 Fractal Age – “Run”
German electro band Fractal Age makes dark, sinister futurepop with lyrics that reflect emotional distress and despair with the human race. On “Run,” the potent throbber that opens their sophomore album, Another Way, they command listeners to “run like never before.” As a lifelong runner, I have a soft spot (and many playlists) for songs about running, and this is one of the best in recent memory.
95 Beyond Obsession – “Scientists”
“Scientists” is the first song from German duo Beyond Obsession since their 2020 album, Revolution From Below. It’s a charming synthpop ditty that looks toward tomorrow and asks listeners to believe in the twenty first century. Singer Nils Upahls upends the pronunciation of “scientist,” compressing it into a quick stammer, which transforms the word into wonderful fluff.
94 Blind Passenger feat. Dennis Schober – “Hello Destiny”
German project Blind Passenger follows their collection of ’80s cover songs with a set of originals called Teamwork that is aptly named—they employ the help of several scene artists, including Leæther Strip, Rob Dust, and Outsized. First single “Hello Destiny” finds Dennis Schober, the unmistakeable voice of Solitary Experiments, joining in for a catchy round of “Hello hello hello” in between volleys of electronic wallops.
93 The Present Moment – “Dharma”
“Dharma,” the centerpiece of The Present Moment’s relentless fifth album, Enough to Drive You Mad, finds frontman Scott Milton chanting “My dharma dharma dharma dharma.” The simple yet memorable refrain creates a hypnotizing effect, but The Present Moment piles on additional layers—an otherworldly choir, pulsating bleeps, heavy bass patter— that add up to an unexpected and complex outcome.
92 Weird Wolves – “See the Light”
Emerging American duo Weird Wolves has a name you might recognize—co-founder Ava Gore is the daughter of Depeche Mode songwriter Martin Gore. It’s somewhat unnecessary to mention that because Weird Wolves rise above any accusations of nepotism thanks to an engaging electro-rock sound and strong songwriting. Their 2022 single “See the Light” serves up a sultry, plodding beat while delivering rich vocal melodies and unexpected tempo changes to keep your ears engaged.
91 The Gathering – “Empires”
Post-punk’s resurgence inspired Canadian band The Gathering to make an unforseen return after a nearly 30-year absence. They enlisted one of the people responsible for that resurgence, ACTORS frontman Jason Corbett, to produce their new music, and you can hear his polish all over their catchy 2022 single “Empires,” which features an exquisite New Wave mix of guitar, drums, and synth.
90 This Eternal Decay – “DarkLove”
“DarkLove” is a beautiful, wrenching song from Italy’s This Eternal Decay, but something unexpected happens around the 1:40 mark that makes it feel extraordinary. Booming industrial noise breaks through the pitter patter of keys, showcasing the band’s elegant programming skills and their deft combination of synthpop and darkwave sounds.
89 White Lies – “Am I Really Going to Die”
In 2021, English band White Lies released an infectious single called “As I Try Not to Fall Apart” that lives rent free in my consciousness—I named it the No. 4 track of the year. The song’s album arrived this year, along with another catchy single that’s built upon rollicking synths and morose lyrics that consider the eternal question, am I really gonna die?
88 LMX – “Addiction”
LMX is an emerging German artist who has experimented with different types of electronic sounds, but he’s found a soothing synthpop groove on third album Habits & Addictions. Opening track “Addiction” contains a wonderful breakbeat, trancey synthline, and tender vocals that deliver warm, reflective hypnosis.
87 Kid Moxie – “Shine”
Now this is a combination I didn’t expect: synthwave shapeshifter Kid Moxie taps dark electro bad boy Faderhead to produce two tracks for her 2022 album, Better Than Electric. The out-there combo pays off—first single “Shine” goes a bit harder with a trademark Faderhead bassline, while Kid Moxie delightfully coos, “I’ll make you shine, shine tonight.”
86 Felix Marc – “Touch”
Prolific German artist Felix Marc has released a handful of singles since his 2019 solo effort, Substance. The best of the bunch is “Touch,” an energetic and emotional track that finds Felix lamenting “lonely winter nights.” It’s unclear if Felix is planning another solo album, but he remains busy, consistently releasing new material with his other projects Frozen Plasma and Diorama.
85 Eisfabrik – “Saving Shore”
German futurepop torchbearers Eisfabrik rarely stray from their proven formula of songs about desolate cold. In the build-up to their sixth album, a monumental double-set called Life Below Zero, they released a handful of club-friendly singles broaching the subject, but this nautical themed anthem finds the band turning their focus to the sea.
84 Minuit Machine – “Lion in a Cage”
This year, French duo Minuit Machine released a new album called 24 that’s an astonishing collection of heart-pounding beats. Their songs are ready-made for dark, smoky dancefloors, but “Lion in a Cage,” the album’s lead single, is its most accessible moment, a pulsating number with a thumping beat and compelling lyrics about feeling trapped.
83 Computer Bandit – “Lose Control”
There are a handful of songs that make this list each year thanks to my partner, who constantly surprises me with the music he finds. “Lose Control” is one of those, a certified uptempo bop that’s part electroclash, part synthpop. The German producer employs female vocals to sing about the power of imagination—or possibly substance abuse—and draws comparisons to Alice in wonderland.
82 Male Tears – “Domin8”
California duo Male Tears tap into the droning Boy Harsher sound that practically dominates electro dance floors these days, but they find fresh ground with thumping beats, palpitating synth bleeps, and male vocals that stretch the chorus of “Dominate me” into a sinister languor. The song’s one-word backing vocals (“Isolate. Capitulate. Submit.”) recall the great Skinny Puppy at their most melodic.
81 Royksopp feat. Alison Goldfrapp – “Impossible”
Norwegian duo Röyksopp has been making lavish electronic music for more than 25 years, but their best moments are when they employ the vocal talents of artists like Karen Dreijer, Susanne Sundfør, and Robyn. It’s shocking that it’s taken them this long to team up with Alison Goldfrapp, but the result was worth the wait—”Impossible” finds Alison’s delicate vocals contrasting nicely with the song’s electrified thump.
80 Pure Obsessions & Red Nights – “As It Glows in the Dark”
French project Pure Obsessions & Red Nights (formerly just PORN) released a slew of singles in 2022—most of them have been collected in the long player Let Your Obsessions Run Wild. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I like how “As It Glow in the Dark” cranks up the gloom with alternating synth notes, static, and brooding lyrics about finding inner peace.
79 Dark-o-matic – “Devotee”
When Dark-o-matic made their debut in 2019, I raved about the band’s sultry vocals. Unfortunately, original lead singer Piero Delux left the band, but new vocalist George Georgalas rises to the occasion on their sophomore set, Dark Phoenix Rising. He delivers a breezy croon on “Devotee,” which opens the album with a gorgeous synth melody and hard-charging guitars.
78 Buzz Kull – “Dancing With Machines”
A playful, percolating synth loop is the defining factor on this fiery thriller from Australian musician Buzz Kull. Minimalist EBM beats put the artist in the same playing field as other modern darkwave acts like Boy Harsher and Linea Aspera, but Buzz Kull rises above easy genre classification with strong vocal melodies. Try not to sing along to “This is what it’s like when we’re dancing with machines.”
77 DB Armitage – “Landslide”
I’m always looking for fresh sounds, and there is no other voice in synthpop like this one. DB Armitage, the musical project of Londoner Dalma Berger, has a thick, hardy voice that reminds me of classic rockers like Grace Slick. It looms over rumbling electronics in “Landslide,” which finds her lamenting, “My heart may never be ready.” I believe “Landslide” is only her fourth song and the first to embrace this dark synth sound, but it’s given me extremely high expectations of this newcomer.
76 Ultra Sunn – “Out of the Cage”
“Out of the Cage” is side B on the Summer 22 double-header from Belgian duo Ultra Sunn, their first new music since last year’s breakthrough Body Electric EP. Its catchy, compelling lyrics make it the better track, but just barely. Both songs deliver brutal EBM beats and the type of languid vocals that Boy Harsher has popularized.